Friday, August 12, 2005

Washington lobbyist Abramoff charged with fraud

Washington lobbyist Abramoff charged with fraud

By Jim Loney

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Washington lobbyist who is a central figure in investigations involving House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was charged on Thursday with defrauding two lenders of $60 million to buy a casino cruise line.

Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist, and Adam Kidan, his partner in the $147.5 million buyout of SunCruz Casino five years ago, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta said.

The two were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and five counts of wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors are also seeking restitution of the $60 million.

Federal authorities said they were in the process of arresting Abramoff in Los Angeles and Kidan in Florida.

The indictment alleges that Abramoff and Kidan duped specialty lenders Foothill Capital and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd by pledging to invest $23 million in the purchase of SunCruz in return for the $60 million loan. The indictment alleges the two men offered a fake wire transfer document as proof they had invested the money.

"That document was counterfeit. The defendants never transferred the funds," Acosta, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told reporters at a news conference in Miami.

Abramoff and Kidan bought the casino cruise empire from Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, a Greek-immigrant entrepreneur who built the cruise line and the Miami Subs restaurant chain. He was shot to death in his car on a Fort Lauderdale street in a gangland-style hit in 2001.

DeLay, a Texas Republican, has faced questions about his ties to lobbyists, foreign trips funded by outside groups and the use of campaign funds. Opponents claim he has engaged in unethical behavior. He has denied the allegations. DeLay's office had no comment on the charges against Abramoff.

The Washington Post reported in April that a plane trip to London and Scotland by DeLay was charged to a credit card issued to Abramoff. Under House ethics rules, lawmakers are prohibited from accepting payment of trips and related expenses from registered lobbyists.